Earning Love

> “How do you say 赚钱 in English?”

> “‘Earn money.’ You could also say ‘make money.'”

> “‘Earn money’ is the same as ‘make money?'”

> “That’s right.”

> She thought about it for a second, and then: “so then can you also say ‘earn love?'”

Simple logic, when applied to language, can lead to very frightening conclusions.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. Sometimes it works that way.

  2. How come the tag is sex?

    Who is this girl you were with, Mr. Pasden?

  3. Justin (Parasite) Says: May 25, 2006 at 10:25 am

    “I’ve won this dear damsel’s love through a myriad of gallant and chivalrous acts.”

    I’m pretty sure if she had asked you about “won” and “love”, completely out of the blue, you might have thought it equally weird. The fact is, even being native speakers, we’re just not designed to actively conclude whether or not it is possible to coherently and properly make use of two words in a single utterance. Don’t be so sure about using ‘earn’ with ‘love’ until you’ve spoken English for a lifetime, and the combination hasn’t come out even once! (In saying this, I’m calling to mind many instances when I gave a Chinese person a ‘definitive’ answer about English, only to realize a few weeks later that my best intuitions were completely and utterly mistaken.)

  4. Well, one of the older meanings of “make love” was to court or to woo (“Lady, do you mind if I make love to you?”) so “earn love” could fit there.

    This is why I think this is one reason where Chinese is a better language than English. English has too many modal verbs. Make love, make money, make do, make up (stuff you apply on your face, to take a test at a later date, to reconcile with someone you had an argument with), make out (to pick out some pattern, to snog) etc. all very different meanings with the word “make.” I don’t envy Chinese speakers trying to learn all that.

  5. English phrasal verbs (make up, make out, make off, etc) can indeed confuse a learner, because you generally can’t guess the meaning from the component words. On the other hand, the advantage is that it might be easier to remember (and spell, and correctly pronouce) a new combination of already known lexical items (analogous to a compound word) than a completely new word (like “reconcile” instead of make up, “snog” instead of make out, etc).

    But this is subtly different to patterns like “make money” and “make love” (and the classic “make a bed”), which grammatically are a simple verb + object construction. True, the meaning of these widely used verbs like “make”, “do”, “get”, and “have” varies depending on the object, and their use is conventionalized, so you basically have to learn their collocations (the way they combine with other words) one by one. But the same thing happens in Chinese. For example, the Chinese equivalent of “make love” is 做爱 (“do love”). The common verbs used this way include 做 (do), 打 (hit, strike), 发 (emit, send out), etc. Just a few examples of their use would include 打针 (get an injection, literally “hit needle”), 打包 (wrap up, literally “hit wrap”), and 发财 (get rich, literally “emit wealth”).

  6. Lantian Says: May 25, 2006 at 3:56 pm

    So can one “打爱”?

  7. How about “搞爱” or “办爱”?

  8. I’m pretty sure that 干 (and I think maybe 搞 as well) can be used by itself to express this meaning, although I guess it’s a bit coarse.

    What’s with all this talk about sex on sinosplice recently?

  9. Todd,

    Hmmm, I’m not sure. These things just happen. Maybe I’m unconsciously trying to compensate for too much dry linguistics-related content? 🙂

    Actually this post is not really about sex/making love, though. It’s about language. The last post wasn’t about sex either; it was about naming blogs.

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